On December 6, 2016, authorities reportedly arrested Bassel al-Amin, a student of journalism at Lebanese International University, for publishing a Facebook post critical of the government.
Mr. al-Amin’s Facebook post, which has since been deleted, was in response to a television show that reportedly mocked a Syrian man seeking a job. He reportedly wrote: “A Syrian refugee or a Syrian migrant worker or simply a Syrian citizen is worth more than your republic, your cedars, your Lebanon, its independence, government, history, revolution and presidents. Is that clear?”
On December 6, Mr. al-Amin was reportedly summoned by the Bureau for Anti-Cybercrime and Intellectual Property Rights for questioning regarding the post. There, he was arrested and held in custody until December 12, when he was released on bail. His case has since been referred to the general prosecutor for review of the charges against him. These include violating penal code article 317, which criminalizes expression meant to cause or resulting in “sectarian or racist strife,” and article 384, which criminalizes insulting the president, the flag, or the national anthem. If convicted, Mr. al-Amin could face up to five years imprisonment.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about the arrest and detention of a student in retaliation for non-violent expressive activity – conduct which is explicitly protected under international human rights instruments including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. State officials have a responsibility not to interfere with the right to freedom of expression, so long as it is exercised peacefully and responsibly. Prosecutions aimed at limiting student expression undermine academic freedom and democratic society generally. State officials have an obligation to comply with internationally recognized standards of free expression, due process and fair trial.